Teaching During a Pandemic: We are #BETTER! (Part 3)

Candace MillerBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Reflect Better


  • Teaching during a pandemic began with feeling lost.
  • Experiencing this year has led to a renewed hope for the future.
  • Transitioning back to in-person learning after virtual learning for so long was a challenge at first.
  • We are better after having taught during the pandemic. Lessons learned from this time are shared.

My Purpose

My purpose in blogging is to work through and process thoughts, happenings, and feelings throughout my teaching career. I’m hoping that through my blogs, I can help someone who may be experiencing the same thoughts and feelings as I have.

My teacher heart leapt for joy.

The first time you welcome students into your room and meet them face to face is usually at the beginning of the school year. But for me, this happened in March for the 2020-2021 school year. It had been a year since I stood in my classroom with students.

So many emotions welled up inside as I stood in the hallway watching students walk to their first period classes. I fought back tears as last year’s students walked by and said hello.

As students started entering my classroom, my teacher heart leapt for joy.

I needed to focus on creating a safe atmosphere where all feel they belong. Click To Tweet

I had to make the best of two days in person.

My district chose to do a slow entrance back into school. For the first week, only juniors and seniors would return. Freshmen and sophomores would return the following week. My school’s students were divided into two cohorts.  Cohort A would be in person on Monday and Tuesday, and Cohort B would be in person Thursday and Friday. Each group would be asynchronous on the days they were not in person.

On Wednesdays, we all stayed home to work in an asynchronous environment.

My students were going from four days of synchronous instruction a week to two days of synchronous. I’m not going to lie, this was a little frustrating because I knew most students would not work on their asynchronous days. I had to make the best of the two days in person!

I knew I had to do something.

On that first day in person with students, something became very evident. They were not used to communicating with others. Even with me!

My students walked in, sat down, and opened up their Chromebooks. Even when I posed a question, they all sat quietly. It was almost as if the last year of virtual learning retrained students on how to do school. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the days of noisy classroom chatter. It would be amazing to hear students work together to solve science problems again.

I knew I had to do something.

I needed to focus on creating a safe atmosphere where all feel they belong.

Taking a step back, I thought about one thing. I was planning my mini lessons as if we were 3/4’s of the way through the school year. As if my students had been working together all this time, building relationships and a sense of belonging.

But, my students have never been in person, and in person is much different than Zoom.

Being on Zoom all year gave them tools that led to some sense of comfort while responding in class. They were protected by being able to mute and have videos off. They could privately use the chat function to send messages just to me.

Now, students were very vulnerable. They were out in front of everyone. Exposed. A place that was not comfortable for most.

I knew what I had to do.

Bring back the activities from the beginning of the year.  Play games. Let them doodle and express themselves. Hand out encouraging sticky notes. Introduce brain breaks for the classroom.

I needed to focus on creating a safe atmosphere where all feel they belong.

I was beaming with joy!

Over the next few weeks I started to introduce small activities that were content-based and had students sharing out in small groups.

One day, the students walked in and I told them to put their Chromebooks away. We were going to have an “Off the GRID” day.

I had a question up on our classroom projector and gave them time to think about their answer. Then I grouped them up. In their groups, they had to scientifically discuss the answer and come up with a group consensus. Then they had to whiteboard their answer. After all answers were on whiteboards, we stood back and read all of them.

Students saw ideas that were contrary to theirs. Questions started between the groups! I did have to remind them to justify their answers, but I’d take what I was getting from them as it was a huge start. My students were having scientific arguments!

For the first time in over a year, things felt normal. I was beaming with joy!

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We Are Better: A few things that I’ve learned in teaching through this pandemic come to mind.

We’re getting ready to end the school year and jump into summer break. As I sit here and reflect, a few things that I’ve learned in teaching through this pandemic come to mind.

  • We are courageous. Over this past year, we changed up the way we did things so many times. Questions were asked of our schools, ourselves, and our students. We adjusted and made the best of it.
  • We can do hard things. Through every different situation we were thrown into, we problem solved and made things work.
  • We are resilient. When things got tough, we didn’t give up. We came up with solutions. Our practices were bettered for ourselves and for our students.
  • We are able to learn new tricks. Yes, we can learn new things and have fun doing them. I saw so many unique and engaging ideas all over social media from our fabulous colleagues. Many of them inspired me to learn and do better for my students.
  • My students are AMAZING! They rode the wave of the pandemic with me. When I asked them tough questions about my practice and their own, they were honest in their replies.
  • I was never really lost; I was growing. Many times over this past year I felt like my teaching purpose was lost. I felt so distant from who I wanted to be as a teacher. When I really think about it, I was always there. My purpose never went away. I was just going through “growing pains.”

This list could go on, but I’ll leave you with one last thought.

  • I have THE BEST PLN! My Teach Better Family has been there for me. I love the collaboration that happens on social media with all of you AMAZING educators. We are #BETTER!

About Candace Miller

Candace Miller is an educator who believes that each student is capable of learning. She understands that connecting with students is key. Her passion is helping students with basic needs. Candace orchestrated the set up of a care corner in her school where students can go and shop for free items that they need. Her other passions include her family, camping, being in nature, reading and crafting (mainly using her cricut machine).

Candace started her education career in Lansing, Michigan. She took ten years away from education to be a stay at home mom for her son. Candace is currently teaching high school science in the Columbus area of Ohio where she is part of her school’s teacher leadership program. She previously taught ESL science in a sheltered science class. Candace is honored to be a founding ambassador for the Teach Better Family and is excited to collaborate with others in the Teach Better Family to be a better teacher.